Saturday, September 26, 2020

Don't Expect Same Night Election Results

G. Washington, 1789
(National Archives)
I remember clearly staying up late on election night, watching election coverage and waiting for the winner to be announced--even though a news network's prediction was in reality unofficial. That probably won't happen in the November 2020 election, and voters need to understand that and be okay with waiting for election results . . . possibly for weeks or longer.

It helps to know that historically, during times when hand-counted ballots and snail mail were the norms, that gathering national election results took time. It used to be that the president was not installed in office until March, until in 1937 (and thereafter) when presidents were installed in January. The 20th Amendment to the Constitution, the "Lame Duck" amendment, upped the inauguration day to speed up the transition to office, something needed and possible in the more technological age but which would have been difficult in older times when communications and travel were slower.

I recently read an article speculating various scenarios of a contested 2020 election, published by the Harvard Gazette, in which I was able to glean the one sentence of historical fact that I was looking for: "For many times in our history, we didn’t know the result of state tallies for weeks, so that’s not historically unprecedented." I wasn't motivated to fall under the spell of gloom-and-doom scenarios the article speculated, but I was interested in the idea that for most of the history of the United States, there were no election night instant results. Voters understood that there would be a time lag between the voting, the vote count, the results announced, and the inauguration. These things took time . . . and still do.

I also found it interesting that the idea of secret voting came about mostly after the Civil War because of the intensity and violence of that conflict. Before that, voting was more public, even including voice votes and adding your signature to a list for a candidate--sometimes during fairs or carnivals where folks (men, who voted then) could be inebriated. It seems voting is more solemn now, probably a good thing, not just something done between horse races.

The Wall Street Journal has posted an article online, "When Will We Know the 2020 Presidential Election Results? A Guide to Possible Delays," that seems to fairly objectively discuss the idea of delayed results for the 2020 presidential election. The journal's main point is that mail-in ballots will take longer to count, that we should expect that, and that we should be patient. 

“We have to prepare for the very strong probability that an election unlike any other we’ve ever had might take a little longer to accurately count with integrity,” said David Becker, executive director and founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, a group in Washington, D.C., that works to improve election administration. “More time being taken to report results is not an indication of a problem.”

We are reminded that election night results are unofficial and that it often takes weeks for the official tally to be announced. In a close race, it is even more important that the certification process be accurate, which may increase the time lag. 

Emotions are high for many, and some politicians are doing their best to inflame those passions. I think it's ironic--and good--that Americans need to realize that our patriotic duty in the upcoming election is to vote . . . and then chill. Don't listen to screamers and accusers. Let the process follow its course as it has done so for over two hundred years. Step back from that need for an instant information fix. Be patriotic. Just chill.


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